Space men

Posted on 9 Sep 2010 by The Manufacturer

Part of the Samuel Hodge group, Essex-based Teknequip specialise in the precision machining of commercial grade materials and also various types of exotic materials that are used in the marine and aerospace industries. Twenty-one skilled setters and programmers give twenty-four hour a day cover throughout the working week to ensure the company can meet the tightest delivery requirements.

“You have order winners and you have market qualifiers,” says Neal Crisford, the group’s managing director. “The market qualifiers are quality, lead time and price. The order winner is our ability to do prototype work and deliver anything from a one-off to a thousand units.

We have a tremendous ability to react quickly to changing qualities and changing quantities across many different materials. It’s the breadth of what we do as well as our flexibility that distinguishes us.” The Samuel Hodge group acquired Teknequip in 1993 and soon began investing heavily in it. The demands of the aerospace industry meant that the company had to adopt the most modern production techniques and the more stringent traceability requirements “from the furnace to the aircraft, everything has to be accounted for” explains quality manager Nigel Howell. “We’re AS9100 and ISO approved and hold all the relevant aerospace approvals that you need to operate in the market. We pride ourselves on having a very stringent system for First Article Inspection.” Recent projects include components for the European Ariane space rocket, Pratt & Whitney jet engines and Westland helicopters.

Believing there to be a significant potential for growth, the Samuel Hodge group has committed to a significant investment in machinery over the next 18 months in the expectation of increasing Teknequip’s current turnover.

“We don’t just want to be a ‘me-too’ company,” says Howell. “We are very niche, very unique. Our company’s ethos is that we position ourselves at the very high end of the market, and we believe that’s a market that has stayed in the UK because customers know they can trust us over companies in China, in the Pacific Rim and elsewhere.”

Continuous improvement
The company’s Continuous Improvement program is at the heart of its drive to maintain a qualitative edge. In partnership with HS Marston its largest customer in turnover terms, Teknequip has rolled in a series of initiatives. “We use Ito University to build a network of lean, leadership philosophies. We’re using that process to run quality clinics where we look for problems and opportunities for greater efficiencies. We sit down as a group to work out the cause of these problems and come up with preventative solutions”, explains Crisford.

“From one person running one machine to one person running two or three machines in a cell formation – it has been quite a culture change for some people here, but they can see the improvements and the ways in which their jobs have been made easier. We’ve been fortunate in having such a receptive workforce.” Since Teknequip started the program 18 months ago on-time delivery has gone from 85% to 98%. Parts per million reject rates have also gone down considerably, to 5 parts per million.

Thinking, inside the box Innovation and investment doesn’t just stop at the factory gates, however. The Teknequip team are especially proud of a distribution system they have developed in conjunction with HS Marston. The parts are now packed in foam cut-outs and sent off in kit form to their customers, ready to be opened and placed straight onto the production line. “It saves them booking in several items into their stores and re-issuing them as needed. They send the kit boxes back to us and we send them back within five days. Our packaging costs have been massively reduced, it guarantees the traceability of the parts throughout the entire process and we’re not throwing away cardboard boxes, which is much more environmentally friendly”, explains Howell.

One of the biggest challenges the industry now faces is in recruiting and retaining high-quality staff. “It’s definitely a problem nowadays. There aren’t enough qualified young people moving into the industry to replace those who are retiring” says Crisford. “We’re lucky in that we don’t lose many staff. We operate a very clean and tidy work environment and we pay a fair day’s wage. We get on as a team and have a very close relationship with our workforce.” Teknequip have just taken on an apprentice. Howell says: “We like to take on young people and train them the Teknequip way, and make sure we retain them for the next 20 years. The group’s been here for over a hundred years now and the company’s well established. We’re not just passing through – we intend to be here in Harlow, Essex for decades to come.”